Georgia Steps Closer To Sports Betting Vote in November Election

Posted on: February 19, 2024, 09:51h. 

Last updated on: February 19, 2024, 11:37h.

Georgia voters might have the final say when it comes to determining whether the Peach State joins nearly 40 other states that have legalized sports betting.

Georgia sports betting
The Georgia Bulldogs college football team runs onto the field during the College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 9, 2023. Georgia sports fans remain barred from betting legally on college and professional sports. (Image: USA TODAY Sports)

Last week in the State Capitol in Atlanta, the Georgia Senate Regulated Industries Committee unanimously approved Senate Resolution 579. The statute seeks to initiate a statewide ballot referendum asking voters if they wish to authorize gambling on professional and college sports.

After passing the committee, the resolution was read aloud on the Senate floor on Friday, but no action was taken. If the Senate signs off on the measure, SR 579 would move to the Georgia House of Representatives.

A legislative-initiated effort to amend the state constitution requires two-thirds support in each chamber. For the referendum, only a simple majority is needed for the amendment to pass.

Hand It to Voters

Georgia lawmakers are deliberating several sports betting measures. While some lawmakers believe a constitutional amendment isn’t needed on claims that sports wagering could fall under the scope of the state-run lottery, others like those sponsoring SR 579 believe voter input is needed.

You can never go wrong letting the voters have a vote,” state Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) told the Ledger-Enquirer.

Beach is one of four Republicans sponsoring the bipartisan effort, along with two Democrats. If the resolution gains the required two-thirds backing in the Senate and House and the measure is not amended, the following question would go before voters during the November 2024 election:

“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize the General Assembly to provide by law for sports betting in this state and to provide for such proceeds to be used for educational funding for pre-kindergarten and HOPE scholarships, services for gambling addiction, and the advancement and promotion of sports in this state?”

The full text of the resolution seeks to allocate the bulk of the to-be-determined tax rate on sportsbook income for the state’s higher education program. HOPE — Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally — provides students who average a “B” or higher in high school with college financial assistance via grants and scholarships.

SR 579 proposes directing 80% of the sports betting tax money to HOPE and pre-kindergarten initiatives. The remaining 15% would be deposited into the state’s Responsible Gaming Fund and 5% to a newly established Sports Promotion Fund. The latter account would be used to market Georgia for major sporting events, something the state’s professional sports franchises campaigned for inclusion.

Sports betting would predominantly live online, as Georgia isn’t home to any casinos. However, there could be a legislative push to allow the Georgia Lottery to operate retail sports betting through kiosks.

Gambling Antagonists

There’s a reason why Georgia hasn’t expanded gaming since 1992, when the lottery was established. Georgia is in the Bible Belt, and is one of the most religious states. Pew Research says almost three-quarters of Georgians believe in a God and 64% say religion is “very important.”

Along with the religious community, which typically opposes gambling, mental health and addiction specialists have concerns about allowing people to bet on their phones and computers.

This is like legalizing heroin or cocaine,” declared Frontline Policy Action Director of Advocacy Taylor Hawkins. The nonprofit lobbies state lawmakers to champion public policies that forge “conservative family values.”